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'Citizens' say letter fails motion

Biomass plant opposition group still wanting request for full environmental impact study

July 29, 2009
Representatives from the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, a group of residents opposing the construction of a biomass electricity plant near Milltown, told the board of county commissioners at its meeting Thursday that a letter it approved last month with regard to a federal environmental impact study isn't what it promised.

The letter, sent to Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, stated that the commissioners, "in an effort to ensure that all appropriate and required impact studies occur, are writing you to request that you advise us of the steps you believe are necessary for the construction and operation of the facility and all federal requirements (i.e. environmental impact studies) that might exist."

"What you wrote was a letter of inquiry, not a request," Mark Woods, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens, said.

The three-member board of commissioners in April voted unanimously to request a study be conducted before permits are issued for the plant. However, Larry Bye, president of the board, said following last month's meeting the commissioners may not have the jurisdiction to require a study prior to state and federal permits being issued.

County Attorney John E. Colin, at Thursday's meeting at the county judicial complex in English, said he has been in contact with EPA officials about the process regarding such a study. He said the EPA has indicated a federal study is triggered automatically if a project includes federal lands, federal funds or federal permits, but the work likely would be delegated to the state. Colin added the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may get involved if a project involves jurisdictional wetlands.

Bye said a representative from Skillman's office contacted him to find out exactly what the commissioners are requesting and has been in touch with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to determine what steps need to be taken. He added the state official indicated the county cannot require a study be conducted, but it can request one.

The county, Colin said, must be careful not to end up being financially responsible for a full study. Typically, the permit applicant bears the costs, he said, but if a study isn't automatically triggered and is conducted only because of a request from the commissioners, the county may be responsible. He proposed making any request for a study contingent upon the county not having to pay for it.

Colin suggested asking Liberty Green Renewables LLC, the company wanting to build the woody biomass-to-electricity plant, if it intends to request federal dollars since doing so would automatically trigger a study.

He also told the commissioners they may want to ask IDEM to send a representative to their August meeting to provide an update on the entire process. The commissioners agreed and hope to have an IDEM official present.

The Concerned Citizens present said they understand the county not wanting to be responsible for the cost of a full environmental impact study, but member Tom Doddridge said public records show that LGR already has received some federal money, which should trigger one automatically.

Doddridge added that while the county may not be able to require a study be conducted, it can make one contingent upon LGR receiving a property tax abatement. Bye earlier in the meeting reaffirmed his previous commitment to not consider a tax abatement request without a study.

Doddridge said federal air emission requirements may come into play because of attainment and nonattainment issues and Kentucky's close proximity. He added that IDEM has issued a Notice of Deficiency to LGR regarding its air permit application, on file at the Crawford County Public Library in English.

(IDEM public information officer Rob Elstro on Friday said the Notice of Deficiency is a formal request by the agency for additional information needed to move forward in the permit process. LG has until Aug. 22 to provide that information, he said.)

"I do encourage you to, in a very timely manner, asking the proponents what their intentions are," Doddridge told the commissioners.

A full environmental impact study, Woods said, is important since IDEM focuses on the plant's process and emissions and not the site. The commissioners may not be able to require a study, but a request from them would have an impact, he said.

In response to a question from Cara Beth Jones, Woods' co-chair, about the commissioners' plans to request a study, Bye said, "The motion (from the previous meeting) still stands to request it.

"We're just trying to get as much information as we can so we know what we're requesting."

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